This year will remain a ‘what if’ for multiple teams in Minnesota, and Armstrong baseball is no different.
The Falcons came into 2020 with high hopes after falling just one win shy of advancing to the 6AAAA section final last year, but the COVID-19 pandemic crept into the United States with the first confirmed case in February, and less than a month later, the side effects of stay-at-home orders were felt with the cancellation of all Minnesota State High School League spring athletics and activities.
There were around 1.43 million confirmed cases and over 85,000 deaths in the United States as of May 13, and those numbers are rising. In Minnesota, there were approximately 15,000 confirmed cases and over 700 deaths as of May 16.
To help limit the spread, there were several steps taken, including the closing of in-person learning at schools. And that led to lost spring seasons around the state.
It began in March when the MSHSL first canceled the last few days of state girls basketball, all of state boys basketball and adapted state floor hockey, and the next few weeks brought the suspension of spring athletics and activities. That lasted for about a month until everything was officially called off on April 23.
Today would have been the beginning of some baseball section tournaments with the state tournament scheduled for June 11-13. Instead, there are empty baseball fields throughout the state, and nine returning Falcons’ seniors – Travis Mosley, Jordan Page, Ben Anderson, Jordan Lewis, Patrick Brey, Zachary Meyers, Jack Major, Tyler Schell and Adam Biewen – never had a chance to see what they could accomplish.
Expectations were high. Coach Brian Sobiech said there was a lot to look forward to with the strong pitching staff that the Falcons were expected to have, led by Biewen, Mosley and Meyers.
Biewen was an All-Northwest Suburban Conference honorable mention in 2019 allowing five earned runs on 20 hits and nine walks in 20 innings and striking out 21. Meyers allowed three earned runs on 17 hits and seven walks in 14.2 innings and struck out eight.
Mosley allowed seven earned runs on 13 hits and four walks in 13.1 innings, striking out 18. All three pitchers had varsity experience on the mound since sophomore year.
Offensively, Schell and Page were expected to lead the team. Schell was the leading returning hitter for the past two seasons, and Page had been on varsity since freshman year, even starting in center field by that season’s section tournament.
Schell, who was an all-conference honorable mention, finished 25-for-75 (.333 average) with eight RBIs, 14 runs scored, a double and a home run in 2019. Page was 14-for-54 with three doubles, two stolen bases, 14 runs scored and six RBIs.
“We were excited for what we could have had,” Sobiech said. “We had some nice pieces, some nice junior kids coming in that would have been able to fill a couple of holes that we had graduated.”
Armstrong was unable to even have tryouts to complete the roster as the spring season was first suspended mid-March and then extended on March 23. A month later, the season was officially canceled.
During that time, players tried to remain ready in case the season did restart, but the coaches and players had a feeling it wasn’t going to. Still, that didn’t make the news any easier to take.
“It was pretty mentally exhausting on all of us,” Sobiech said. “There were a lot of contingency plans that we were trying to put in place, and you knew that you had to have plans for everything but you didn’t know what plan they were going to go for.”
The nine returning seniors that lost their season were ultimate competitors that wanted to win and knew how to win, Sobiech said.
He said it was a good group to work with at the field every day and practice with.
“They worked hard all the time, and it is kind of disappointing to not be able to see them on a daily basis for sure because they are a great bunch of guys,” Sobiech said.
Next season is going to be a challenge now that both the spring and Minnesota American Legion seasons were lost.
The Robbinsdale Westphal Legion team is developmental with only around five graduating seniors on the team out of 16 players. The rest of the team would be juniors getting ready for the varsity season the following year.
The lost time means that there will be zero varsity experience in 2021.
“It will be tough,” Sobiech said. “It will be a slow start. It will be figuring a lot of things out.”
Sobiech did work with some of the players after coaching them on the VFW team last summer, so he said he knows he has a “good bunch of kids.”
“We have some really nice kids in the program that like to play the way we like to play,” Sobiech said. “So we are excited about it. It’s just that they haven’t gotten an opportunity to kind of see what the varsity experience is like, and it is really going to impact us in the playoffs.”